Finding that he had had an unfair trial, but that the prosecution’s case against him was strong, the Court of Appeal (CoA) on Wednesday overturned Sheldon Lynch’s two convictions for child rape, and ordered that he faces a fresh trial.
The CoA handed down its ruling in an appeal brought by Lynch, 51, against his convictions: for the offences of rape of a child under the age of 16, and the two life sentences that were subsequently imposed by trial Judge Simone Morris-Ramlall.
In allowing the man’s appeal, the Appellate Court agreed that he indeed had not had a fair trial, because the trial Judge had failed to properly put his defence of alibi to the jury. In fact, the court said it found “merit” in this ground of his appeal.
“[His] defence was not properly put by the trial Judge to the jury. The issue of alibi clearly arose, and it was not treated at all by the trial Judge. When the case was given to the jury for their determination…they were not specifically directed in relation to the issue of an alibi,” acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, said as she read the court’s ruling.
However, finding that the prosecution’s case against Lynch was strong, and after considering the serious nature and prevalence of the offence, the Appellate Court remitted the matters to the High Court, and Lynch will be retried at the next session of the Essequibo Criminal Assizes.
Lynch, a father of two and resident of an East Coast Demerara (ECD) community, was in 2018 convicted at the Demerara Criminal Assizes of raping the girl on two separate occasions between December 2010 and November 2011. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms, and it was ordered that he must spend a minimum of 35 years in prison on each of the two convictions before being paroled.
During the hearing of Lynch’s appeal earlier this year, defence lawyer Ronald Daniels had contended that prejudicial evidence had been admitted by the trial Judge, and this, he said, had interfered with the jury’s ability to reach an impartial verdict.
For context, he had said that, prior to the jury being empanelled, the Judge had referred to other indictments of a similar nature against his client, and that, in the circumstances, was tantamount to “bad character evidence”, and was therefore prejudicial.
This ground of appeal was wholly rejected by the CoA, which held that this was in no way prejudicial, and that Lynch had benefitted from the legal principle of presumption of innocence.
The defence lawyer had also contested the life sentences, submitting that they were manifestly excessive and not in keeping with established sentencing guidelines. But since the court had set aside Lynch’s convictions, there was no need for the court to deliberate on whether the jail terms were appropriate.
Apart from the Chancellor, Justices of Appeal Dawn Gregory and Rishi Persaud comprised the bench, while Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Mercedes Glasford appeared for the State.
Lynch has another appeal pending against another child rape conviction and life sentence. For that offence, which he committed on August 22, 2015 against an 11-year-old girl, he was sentenced to imprisonment for life, without parole, by Justice Priya Sewnarine-Beharry in 2018.
It was reported that Lynch is known to the child, and, on August 22, 2015, he forced himself on her. Following the incident, the girl told her mother what had transpired, and the mother reported the matter to the Police. Thus, Lynch was arrested, charged, and later convicted. (G1)